Standing Out From the Flock - 7 Meaningful Ways to Connect
You’ve got an endless database of contacts, now what? After follow-up emails and social media interactions have been exhausted, what else can you do to nurture those relationships and set the stage for future opportunities?
In this digital age, it’s easy to post a birthday message on someone’s FB wall, or email your condolences to a client whose parent passed away – but what often means more are the personal touches we can do offline. Many of these things were common practice before digital interactions consumed our life and they are still relevant today.
When you extend a gesture offline, the perception by the recipient is that you care more because you took more time to extend said gesture. The reality is that often it doesn’t take that much more time to do, it just takes a little thought and planning.
7 meaningful ways to forge stronger relationships offline.
1. Send a hand-written card. It may not seem like a big deal, but everyone loves getting “fun” mail – an unexpected surprise that isn’t a bill waiting to be paid. What’s so amazing about a hand-written card is how rare they are to receive. I mean aside from the ones most feel obligated to write (hello post-wedding thank you notes), often not many people nowadays go to the trouble of taking out a pen and paper and simply writing a heartfelt message sans keyboard. Meet someone exciting at that conference earlier this week? Mail them a card that says how fantastic it was to meet them and that you are interested in learning more about what they do. In a world where very few people even send follow up emails (it’s truly surprising), imagine how much more top of mind you become when you send a card? Plus it has the added value of lasting-power – it will likely sit on their desk for a week or two and remind them of you each time they see it. Extra bonus – other people who see it will ask who sent it.
2. Invite someone you don’t know well for coffee. This may seem like a standard request, but I’ve come to learn it is not as standard as it should be. Open up your contacts list and pick out 2-3 people a week that you’d like to get to know better or follow up with and ask them out for coffee. If you want to get adventurous you can upgrade that to lunch or dinner, but it isn’t necessary in the grand scheme of things. And don’t spend the time talking about business exclusively – treat this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about their non-business life (what Dave calls a "no agenda coffee".) Where do they live? How many kids do they have? What kinds of hobbies do they do? What trips have they been on lately? Be careful not to get carried away talking about yourself too much. This is a reconnaissance mission. Having personal information can help you later to tailor your follow-ups in a much more personalized genuine way. Perhaps you find out your contact is a huge fan of the local sports team. The next time you have a pair of tickets, you’ll know who to invite. You may learn they have kids, so the week after Spring Break, you can ask them how they survived the week. You may also learn about opportunities they are looking to pursue and when you hear of one, you can pass it along. Take a genuine interest in learning more – you may uncover some truly fascinating things you never knew about them!
3. Send something unexpected. Did you hear that your client’s father passed away? You could send flowers like everyone else will be…or send something more meaningful in their time of need when everyone is dropping by their house (and that won’t need it’s water changed every couple of days) like a basket of snack items they can put out for company. Did that press contact of yours just have a baby – send a book for the baby’s library that was one of your favourites with a note that explains why you think they’ll love it too (and remember to send this to new dads you know, not just new moms). The key is to think outside of what everyone else will be getting them and pick something unique but meaningful. I had a client break her leg, so instead of sending flowers like everyone else (that she wouldn’t be able to take care of, being immobile), our team put together a gift of books on topics we knew she loved, adult colouring books and activities she could do from the couch. And I hand delivered our package so that I could check in on her to see how she was doing. No need to send a gift to everyone all the time, but pick out key moments that you feel connected to celebrating or honouring.
4. Lend a hand. Ever been to an event you were invited to by a client and watched them scramble to do the final few things to set up. Instead of watching – offer to help them. Do they need a box moved or name cards laid out? Did someone ask for a picture with them and they have their hands full with a coat and purse? Help them out. This should go without saying for anyone you come across. Perhaps all they need is a glass of water or fresh cup of coffee while they are tied up. That client who broke her leg…I found out she was going to take a cab to her doctor’s appointment the next day, so I not only drove her myself, but wheeled her in and waited with her to she wasn’t by herself. Seize any opportunity to show you care.
5. Bring treats for meetings. Everyone likes baked goods and an unexpected latte (office coffee makers generally can’t compare to Starbucks). It doesn’t need to be at every meeting, but once in while, bring a treat to the meeting for the attendees. Be sure to bring a little extra in case someone you weren’t expecting ends up sitting in. Bonus points if you know what they want in their coffee without having to ask each time (hint: write it down when you find out).
6. Honour unique moments. Birthdays, babies, deaths, and weddings are fairly standard times people will celebrate or honour an occasion in some way. Seek out opportunities that not as many people might celebrate. Did you find out a contact moved to a new city? Did someone you know just start a new job? Is one of your clients off sick this week? Pick moments to honour and acknowledge your contacts in ways outside the mainstream that are in line with your values and personality. Send some words of encouragement to someone who just lost their job; send some pencil crayons and activity books to someone who is taking their family on an extended vacation; drop off tea, cough drops and fancy Kleenex for someone who is feeling under the weather; or send a book on stage performance to someone who is doing their first improv show. Get creative and remember to keep it as personalized to the individual as possible.
7. Use social media to your advantage. The great thing about being engaged in social platforms is the ability to discover information about contacts you might not otherwise know. It’s a great tool to learn more about people and will help you tailor your outreach. Take a genuine interest in what they are up to, places they visit, what their kids like, etc as it may come in handy the next time you reach out to them and you can use that information to foster a deeper relationship. Perhaps you discover they are running a marathon soon and you mark the date to go out and cheer them on, or you see that they HATE coffee – you will know to invite them out for tea instead. When you find out a cool fact about them, write it in the notes section of their contact card in your files (I recommend dating entries to ensure accuracy for things that could change over time like the ages of their kids).
Use your creativity and find ways to connect
So get out there, use your creativity and find ways to connect with people that will mean something. You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg – work within your budget. Don’t do it with the intention of driving leads, or bringing in more business – do these thoughtful gestures because you genuinely care. People can spot ulterior motives from miles away. So be unique, heartfelt, put kindness forward and watch the incredible ways it comes back to you. It may be surprising to see the ways in which your seeds of kindness bloom.
Guest post by Nikki Lamb Tudico who recently launched Black Sheep Academy to help overwhelmed executives transition from corporate life to living their dream life. She is also President of Lamb Creative Group, an award-winning marketing and PR agency that helps brands get results. Nikki has a passion for photography, karaoke and kitchen dance parties.